Careers, Conversation, Canoodling, and Other Assorted Concerns

Get Ready For Some Lady Vampire Vengeance, Dames Nation!

We’re thrilled to announce our first live-tweet of 2017:
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night!

This movie has it all: a very stylish young vampire avenging the mistreatment & deaths of prostitutes! A heartbreaking father-son relationship! A splendid soundtrack! A kitten! Skateboards!

Which Dame M. keeps wanting to render as skateborts, a la Beyonce.

We hope you’ll favor us with the gift of your company & witty insights
as we enjoy the first-ever Iranian vampire western romance revenge fantasy,
directed by Lily Amirpour.

When: Sunday, February 5, 7:30 PM ET
Where: Twitter! Follow along with the conversation at #nightdames
How: Netflix (or a DVD borrowed from an obliging library)

Next Week: Guest Editors!

Please give a warm Dames Nation welcome to our January guest editors, Stacie Williams and Evelyn Alfred. It's quite the coincidence that we answered a question about library school this week when next week, one of the top 5 things to come out of Dame Margaret's MLIS degree-- her friendship with Stacie Williams, formed in the trenches of their cataloging class-- is going to be acknowledged when Stacie takes over the newsletter with her friend Evelyn. If you'd like to get acquainted with Stacie's work beforehand, sign up for her TinyLetter and take a gander at its archives-- "On Rituals" is a particular favorite of Dame M's.

Ask Two Bossy Dames

We’ve got some great ones for you this time: careers, conversations, and (maybe) canoodling.

Career Stuff!

Can you talk to me about losing a job, ~finding your purpose,~ and maybe library school? (I just lost my job, I have no idea what my purpose is, and I'm considering library school.) Please alter this to make me sound more interesting. Thanks much.

Dames! I am at a career crossroads. I have an Art History degree, but I've been working in restaurants since graduation. That kind of work, while profitable, isn't really feeling sustainable long-term. I'm considering going back to school to get a library science degree (which is why I think you might be able to give some good advice). Is it worth going for the degree or should I just dive into trying to find work at the local library?  - Seeker in Somerville

Let’s talk about library school! Being notable library ladies, we do get versions of this question with some frequency. Predictably, we have thoughts. First of all, we’re sure we’d love to have both of you in our field - we love it, obviously, it’s full of A+ people doing good work, and embracing new colleagues is one of our favorite professional pastimes. However. We would be remiss not to issue some important caveats, which could probably apply to all graduate school plans.

Caveat The First: library school is very expensive. Dame Sophie will be paying off her loans until her child goes to college (assuming college is another expensive thing that still even exists in 2023). Dame Margaret will be paying hers off…. like honestly, life is hard enough without confronting that math head on, but they DEFINITIVELY register her as “worth more dead than alive.” We advise pursuing your degree at the least expensive ALA-accredited program you can find, or securing an employer (like a university!) that helps you cover the cost with a tuition assistance program. If there’s a program that matches that description within easy distance of where you live now, great! Apply! If there isn’t, find one online. We don’t advise moving to pursue this degree. When you do apply to programs, apply for scholarships and financial aid, too. If you matriculate as a full-time student, money is going to be scarce, so maximize the amount of the bill you don’t have to foot yourself. This is the exact opposite of what we did (Dame Sophie moved to Toronto, Dame Margaret decided to not pursue her degree online and instead to attend the more expensive ALA program near where she lived) and, while those choices had real, appreciable side benefits for us, the expense is NOT SENSIBLE and, if we could give our past selves a stern talking-to about it, we sure would.

Caveat The Second: the job market for librarianship is...not great. Jobs are out there, and the long-promised wave of retirements that were supposed to free up so many positions is kind of happening, but it’s happening alongside other non-wonderful trends jobs being reabsorbed into budgets, and full-time jobs being split into multiple part-time positions. Again, NotAllLibraries; there are plenty of places where full-time positions are in good supply, and some libraries are bouncing back nicely from the Great Recession. But if you’ve long dreamed of going to library school in the big city or very lovely bustling college town & staying there to pursue your career, you may want to adjust your expectations. Are you open to moving across the country for your first job? Flexibility is likely to be your friend here.

Caveat the Third: library school is, in a lot of ways, whatever you decide to make of it. The advanced searching and organizing techniques library school programs were traditionally designed to teach are becoming more automated every year and, beyond a raft of crucial professional values, there is not an entirely standard curriculum or idea of librarian core competencies that all schools, or librarians, embrace. In some ways, this makes an MLIS incredibly versatile degree, and a glorious fit for curious, lifelong learners. But it also means that its inherent value is highly fungible, and that you are going to need to think carefully and strategically about how you focus its import, both through the classes you take (the hardest ones your school has to offer, with the most rigorous professors is our recommendation), and the work _beyond_ your degree, be it part-time or internship, that you will take on to give it definitional worth. Dame Margaret says this to you as someone with a national reputation, 9 years of professional library experience, a raft of substantial connections to her local library community, and the exact same job she had _before_ she got her library degree. There are a lot of factors that contribute to that, too many to list here, but it’s a stark fact nonetheless.   

As to the more general question about finding one’s purpose, we urge to to pursue your dreams while also keeping an eye on the bottom line. A solid first step in this direction is to create a list of people you know who do interesting work and talk to them about how they got into their respective fields. If there’s a person on your list who is a friend of a friend, ask for an introduction. Dame S is a big fan of Stacy-Marie Ishmael’s guidelines for organizing an introduction and the steps you should take afterwards.

Have a very honest talk (or series of talks) with yourself about what you want your life to look like in the future: where do you want to live? Are you a work-to-live type of person or do you live to work? Are you prepared to roll up your sleeves and put in 60-hour weeks to pay your dues? Alternately, can you afford to live very frugally on wages from part time work, if that’s where your heart is taking you? How do you feel about the gig economy? We think the clearer and more specific your picture of the life you want to lead is, the clearer your path to that life will be.  

Sparkling Conversation!

Dear Dames, Do you have any tips on being a better conversationalist? I do okay at really basic small talk (how's work, lovely weather, how 'bout them ballplayers!) and typically have no trouble talking to close friends and family, but it's the interactions in the middle that trip me up. Friends of friends I see semi-regularly, coworkers I've already covered the small talk with, first and second dates, etc. I know the conventional advice is "ask people about themselves!" but I tend to draw a complete blank in the moment. Any other tips or ideas you have would be appreciated!


If you’re already good at basic small talk and big talk, you are doing pretty well! Better than most, even! Small talk is probably the most griped about type of talk, but middle talk might actually be more difficult-- there are at least clear rules for small talk, and big talk happens (ideally) between people where a lot of common ground is already established and a generous margin of error is extended, on account of intimacy. But middle talk is the place where you decide if someone you’ve made small talk with is going to, eventually, become someone with whom you feel safe having big talk, and vice-versa. The margin of error can sometimes be unforgiving and no exact script really exists to take you, successfully, from casual interaction to meaningful friendship. That’s a scary spot to be in and the pressure it creates is almost certainly what causes your brain to freeze up. BUT, you’re in luck, because (1) good conversation’s trickiness is a feature, not a bug, and (2) we think a slight variation on your already established principle of “ask people about themselves” will serve you well.

The first thing to remember is that good conversation is both subjective and mutual. A lot of brain-freezing pressure comes from believing, first, that a platonic ideal of conversation exists in the mind of your conversational partner and, second, that your job is to intuit that ideal, and manifest it single-handedly, thereby proving your social worth. But these beliefs are poppycock! First off, no platonic ideal of conversation can be defined-- much like pornography, while its center is clear, its boundaries are porous. We all know it when we see it, but what makes it work for the people experiencing it is specific to those two (or more) people. Second, satisfaction is a two-way street (....also like pornography). As is so often the case with advice (especially advice directed towards women), it’s easy to put all the responsibility on the one’s who’s seeking to improve, but it’s important to remember that good conversation is not merely about entertaining your partner, it’s also about being entertained yourself.

And it’s in that last truth that the secret to good conversation (at least as practiced by Your Dames) lies: your job isn’t merely ask people questions about themselves. It’s to ask people questions about themselves where their answers have the potential to fascinate you. Do you, like Dame Margaret’s friend Elena, love ice cream more than is strictly sane or reasonable? Then ask people you meet where their favorite ice cream comes from, or what their favorite flavor is. Or maybe, like Dame Sophie, you love music deeply and find peoples’s personal relationship with it fascinating. If that’s the case, you could use Dame Margaret’s mom’s favorite question: what’s the first piece of music you ever bought for yourself using your own money? Once you have this general prompt in mind, it’s actually easier to come up with a raft of good middle talk questions than you would expect. Not all of them are going to be a hit with every conversational partner, but that’s okay. As we always say, your goal should never be universal approval-- THAT WOULD BE EXHAUSTING! Your goal should be deep approval shared mutually with others of whom you deeply approve. If you ask a question about someone that’s also designed to interest you, and they seem baffled by it, that’s not a sign that your question is faulty. It’s more likely a sign that you and this person are not destined to make it to big talking together and the earlier you both figure it out, the happier you’ll be.  


I'm taking a month off OKC/Tinder and the longer I go without terrible messages and annoying notifications, the less likely I am to give it another shot. Should I even bother with online dating, or just give in to the single life and buy another caftan?

This one is going to get a quick, clean answer: you are allowed to want things conditionally, even romantic companionship. And you are allowed to decide you are tired for now without deciding you will be tired for always. Dating is hard, whatever your methodology, but it's impossible if your spirit has no bounce to it. And it sounds like right now, online dating is leaving you with no bounce at all. That is an instinct to listen to, not one to override. And, although it may feel like you're giving up forever and limiting yourself to a future of being a staunch character in a caftan, you are doing no such thing. You are just recognizing, at this particular point in time, your desire to avoid online dating is greater than your desire to seek a partner. So, leave it off until the thought of it doesn't fill you with dread. See what your life is like once you give yourself that permission. You can go back on the second it seems worthwhile, or leave them off forever. And, if you find yourself feeling really keenly lonely but still full of dread at online dating, listen to that instinct, too. It can feel like THE ONLY WAY, but if you've got a social circle, you also have other options. People met their partners the old fashioned way-- through their friends, at weddings, in a taxi cab, at a bar-- for centuries. There's no reason to assume it can't happen that way for you, too. 

Dame Sophie’s Duets Obsession

Marvin and Tami: swoooooon!

Longtime readers know I am (maybe unhealthily?) fascinated with mixtapes & playlists, and am always curious to see what kind of side-eyes and encouragements Spotify has queued up for me in its Discover Weekly feature.What can I say? Music is a lifelong obsession for me. Recently, I’ve been enjoying a lot of duets and thought I’d share some of my all-time favorites with you. I love the interplay of voices together, and the way duets are a sometimes a conversation, sometimes a competition. I put together a playlist for your listening enjoyment over on Spotify, and want to share some thoughts on a few special highlights:

  • Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell: I only recently started going through their entire joint catalog, and no surprise here: it’s all so, so good. What a pair of voices! I don’t know anything about their real-life relationship, but they sure sound like they’re feeling every word, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pair of singers more well-matched than they are.

  • Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin: yeah, this is the song where it sounds like they are straight-up boning in the studio. A song where one partner is having the orgasm of her life, while her partner casually spits out “physical love is a dead end. DEAD END.” is...special. (That English translation comes from a version by Nick Cave & Anita Lane on Mick Harvey’s Intoxicated Man/Pink Elephants double album of English-language Gainsbourg covers, which is a great entry point to Gainsbourg’s work. BUT It’s even better in French, because of all the hissy, derisive sibilance of “L’amour physique est sans issu.”)

  • Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: do you have a couple of friends who are really good at karaoke? That’s what the two albums of duet covers this pair have produced are like. The covers aren’t particularly innovative (which usually annoys me-- as we've previously established, I feel if you’re going to cover a song, make it stand out!), but they are pleasingly comfortable in a Sunday afternoon sort of way.

  • The Cactus Blossoms: this band of brothers just released their debut album and I CANNOT get enough of their Everly Brothers stylings. Tight, lovelorn harmonizing is one of my favorite sounds of all time. Fellow sibling act Tegan & Sara are similarly sonically delicious. I just love not being able to tell at certain points whose voice is whose.

  • Betty Carter & Ray Charles: their version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, is the ONE rendition of this song that I enjoy. I mean, I relish it. It doesn’t sound date-rapey to me, it sounds like what it should be: a mid-20th century dance of seduction where both partners want each other real bad, and have to figure out what rationale the woman is going to use to avoid tarnishing her reputation the next day. The problem I have with so many versions of this song is that they’re too fast. You can’t rush these verses, because the charm is in the pair’s partnership! They’re working through this dumb problem together, flirting, advancing, retreating, and ultimately saying, “oh, what the HELL? Let’s do this!” together. (Their album of duets is long out of print & doesn’t seem to be available on Spotify, but do track down the individual tracks on YouTube - they’re another wonderful voice-pairing.)

  • Drake & Rihanna: “Take Care” is one of my favorite pop songs of the last few years, and I love the way their voices work together. He’s so eager, she’s so cool, they’re both so heartfelt. Bliss & emotional depth all in one!

Do you, too, love duets? Tell me about your favorites & what makes them special to you.

And Now, A Pep Talk From Dame Sophie

I want to talk to you about something.

As we stagger together towards Inauguration Day, I would like to remind you darlings of Dames Nation that everything is in progress and nothing is over. Yes, we bawled our eyes out during the President’s farewell speech this week. We lost it several times when Barry & Joe had their big moment this week with the haute bromance of the bestowing and receiving of the special secret surprise emotionally murderous Presidential Medal of Honor. (Let me just pause here to say that delivering both The Onion’s fictionalized version of himself -- “I wanted to pull a full gainer!” -- and the intellectual dreamboat version of himself -- quoting both Seamus Heaney and The Talmud -- is one of the greatest gifts the best VP we’ll ever have gave us.) But listen: this is a long, long game we are playing. The stakes are vertiginously high. We are tired just thinking about it. Please remember you’re not alone. Your people are here, and there, and everywhere. We are going to work, and sometimes we’re going to fail, but we both can’t and won’t stop. Here are some links about that:

  • I’ve returned again & again to this piece by Jamelle Bouie, about Jesse Jackson’s 1980s blueprint for a long-term progressive campaign that addresses universally significant social issues - education, unemployment, wages, workers’ rights - with enough specificity to make them useful for people of all races and classes, in all states.

  • Magda Pescenye’s clarion call to members of Generation X to get up and get going on the project of making common cause with our Millennial brothers & sisters resonates with me, especially the to-do list at the end. I’ve been saying for years that we have to partner up & work together (she said, writing a cross-generational newsletter), and it’s never been more urgent than now. I love this bit, especially:

"Think about roles. We are really good at adapting to flawed systems. Millennials are really good at ignoring systems and creating alternate paths. We’re huge knowledge and skill repositories. Millennials are aces at execution. We’ve been playing the long game since we were born. Millennials get things done now. Together we have everything we need."

  • When faced with dire circumstances, I turn to favorite authors. The late Sir Terry Pratchett had a thing or two to say about power, class, and gender in his sprawling Discworld series of books, and these ten quotes should be a doorway into (or back into) The Disc. My favorite quote right now is from The Wee Free Men, about the flinty young Witch of the Chalk, Tiffany Aching, whose grandmother, also a witch, delivers this stunner: “Them as can has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.” I hope Granny Aching wouldn’t mind the friendly amendment of “And also someone has to lift up the voices of them as has been marginalized by structural racism.”

A Bit of Bracing Frivolity, A Bit of Grace, and a Bit of Grit from Dame Margaret

You on the limitations imposed by structural oppression in 2017

  • You have surely, by now, seen video of Mariah Carey’s gently disastrous performance at New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. What you probably have not realized however is that, secretly, Mariah was providing you with a foolproof method for shutting down the people and structural forces of oppression trying to shut YOU down. Or so R. Eric Thomas argues with persuasive insouciance in this delightful essay for Elle Magazine, "Let Mariah Carey Be Your 2017 Resistance Goals." 

  • And a small piece of grace: a group of Belgian astronomers have named a new constellation after David Bowie. It is, of course, shaped like a lightning bolt.

  • And, thoroughly unfrivolous, please take the time to listen to the two most recent episodes of NPR’s CodeSwitch, examining the complex racial legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. In addition to being fascinating, they are also-- for me-- a bracing reminder of how much bad can slip under the radar even when someone truly decent has their hand on the tiller. As we head into our grim national future, it makes me feel stronger to remember that the burdens we're picking up right now have long, long roots, and will take a long time to unravel. I know this may seem counterintuitive, but knowing that the bad I see so much of now isn't new simply because it's freshly clear, makes me feel better. Like I have been saying since Election Day: you can't fight what you don't see. And I see so much more now than I did before, which I hope will make me (and others like me) more effective fighters.